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The Cars and a Partial List of Great Debut Records - by Colin Gawel and Ricki C.

(Colin & Ricki collaborated cybernetically on this post: Colin is in plain text, Ricki’s in italics.)

Sadly, we recently lost the talented musician and producer Ric Ocasek. The Cars debut record could perhaps be the most fully realized debut record of all time. Think about that. Off the top of my head here is an incomplete list of the greatest debut records ever recorded. The criteria for this list follows one simple rule:

If you only had the debut record, you would fully understand the artist. That knocks out 99.9% of records. For example, you can’t only own Meet the Beatles and claim to appreciate The Beatles. A great debut record, no doubt, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. But if you heard The Cars, you would never need another Cars record to fully appreciate the band. Let’s go to my list. Please let me know who I am missing as I am sure there are plenty. 

The Cars - I used to play this record over the phone to girls I was too scared to talk to in 7th grade. Later when Watershed was working on The More It Hurts with Tim Patalan, we took a break from recording feeling pretty good about ourselves and ended up at a house party in Detroit. Someone put on The Cars and we all just kinda slumped at the same time. That record was flawless. We still had a wide river to cross. (I totally agree with Colin on this one. As he said, flawless record. For an in-depth account of my Troubled History with The Cars founder, check out Growing Old With Rock & Roll / Fighting With Ric Ocasek sometime.)

Van Halen - Boom. Have you seen the cover? Have you heard “Eruption”? What is this? 

Tracy Chapman - “Fast Car” only gets better and the rest of the record is just as good.

Guns N’ Roses / Appetite for Destruction - Though the video for “November Rain” is the only GNR you need to watch.

Weezer / The Blue Record - Produced by Ric Ocasek. Pinkerton is my personal favorite but all other 15 Weezer records are just them trying to rip off their debut. You hear this, you get the gist.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers - It’s got “American Girl.” Oh, and Jimmy Iovine can get bent  for bad-mouthing Stan Lynch on later records. Sounds like a fake-ass producer looking for a scapegoat. Jimmy couldn’t get the right drum sounds with Bruce Springsteen, either?  Stan seemed to play pretty well on this record. Once again see: “American Girl.” (Ricki: I’m gonna throw in my two cents on this one. Back in 1976 when I went HUGE for the Year Zero aspect of punk-rock and literally gave away all my old acoustic records from the 1960’s & 70’s, that first Heartbreakers record was mind-blowing. Yeah, The Clash were great and The Sex Pistols had a coupla cool singles, but Tom Petty and the guys were just so AMERICAN, ya know? I couldn’t really picture Sid Vicious sittin’ around a swimming pool quaffing beers & smoking joints, but I could CERTAINLY see Stan Lynch indulging in those activities whilst simultaneously trying to scam pert, pretty young American Girls. “The Wild One Forever,” “Anything That’s Rock & Roll,” “American Girl;” all classics. And “Mystery Man“ is definitely one of the Top Ten Rolling Stones Songs That The Rolling Stones Forgot To Write EVER.)

MeatLoaf / Bat Out of Hell - The first and only Meat record you need to own. Jim Steinman is from another planet. 

Ramones - Made some better records but if you hear this, you pretty much know Ramones.

Here Is Little Richard - Same as Ramones.

The Killers / Hot Fuss.

Anyway, I’m at work serving coffee so chime in with who is missing. 

R.I.P. Ric Ocasek and  Ben Orr. 

Ricki’s addendum to Great Debut Records List:

The New York Dolls. Possibly - In My Humble Opinion - THE GREATEST DEBUT ALBUM in the history of rock & roll, but I’m not going through my entire record collection to verify that. If I think of any better, I’ll get back to you.

The Whiles / Colors Of The Year. Joe Peppercorn has certainly had great moments on later records (who else in Columbus could have written “Interregnum Thrones”?) but never as consistently genius a record as this debut.

The MC5 / Kick Out The Jams. What more needs to be said? “Kick out the jams, motherfucker!”

Ian Hunter / self-titled 1976 release. I’m not really sure this one should count, since Hunter already had 6 or 7 Mott The Hoople records behind him when he released this solo debut, but GODDAMN, what a great Declaration of Independence.

The Modern Lovers / self-titled (I HATE the term “eponymous,” and it’s hard to spell.) Recorded as demos in 1972 or so, not released until 1976. Classic. (For more check out Growing Old With Rock & Roll / The Modern Lovers.)


Ignore the Politics and Uncle Ted Is One Helluva Musician - by Mark Stewart

IGNORE THE POLITICS AND UNCLE TED IS ONE HELLUVA MUSICIAN

The backdrop to the stage was a portrait of Uncle Ted riding a middle finger while flipping the bird himself. There’s nothing that Ted doesn’t enjoy more than…well, Ted. All right, Mr. Nugent has made a name for himself in recent times in the far-right political spectrum. He has never been bashful about anything, stressing strong support for the second amendment, the military, his very conservative views and above all…Ted. 

But this is not political. While many of us may be on the opposite side of the political rainbow, there is no denying that the Motor City Madman continues to be one bad-ass musician. At the age of 71 (but looking 20 years younger) Uncle Ted continues to tour the nation and gets fans of all stripes to come to his concerts. My son’s friend is in the military so he received complimentary tickets (as part of Ted’s support for the military) for him and three friends to attend Ted’s most recent gig at PromoWest Express Live! in Columbus on August 30. My friends and I were happy to pay market price to see him live, having been entertained by his music and his antics in the past. So this combination Boomer/Millennial group was out there on the lawn with fans mostly of the higher-aged vintage, but all who were there for the music. 

Ted started out with Stranglehold (how rare to start with such a big hit?) and ignoring the misogynistic lyrical overtones (which we shouldn’t, and that’s another whole blog post), it is one amazing rock anthem. One cannot help but enjoy the lead guitar that Ted has honed over many years along with the perfect bass and drum accompaniment (Ted’s band today is a trio, no frills kinda band). While Ted sang lead on most of the tunes, his outstanding bass player Greg Smith sang lead on a number of songs, giving Ted the chance to demonstrate his out of this world guitar playing skills. (Extra credit: Who was formerly lead singer for Ted’s tunes and has been the lead singer for Foghat, the band of Slow Ride fame, the last 20 years since Lonesome Dave’s death? See answer below. Oh, and my son pointed out that Ted’s drummer Jason Hartless, another fellow Motown native, was born in 1994, so this was truly a cross-generational event.

Ted says he never drank alcohol or did drugs so it keeps him clear for all things and I have to believe him (at least on the musical side). Taking us through his hits as well as some tasty deep tracks, he kept the crowd moving and engaged. His guitar on the immensely rocking Fred Bear almost brought a tear to this reviewer’s eyes, and certainly brought the crowd to its feet (which is quite a “feat” itself with so many of us Boomers wanting to sit for a spell).

With the reminder that freedom isn’t free and recognition of each arm of the military, Ted marched into another rocker - Free For All - which for some reason I don’t believe was written originally with that in mind, but it works. He said he loves the songs that he has written, says his favorite concert is today’s, and that tomorrow his favorite concert will be tomorrow’s. As he wound up Cat Scratch Fever just before he left the stage prior to his encore, we decided to beat the crowd departing along with many other 60-somethings. But we left believing this was his best concert in the three times we have seen him the last few years in Columbus. No doubt about it, Good Friends and a Bottle of Wine brought back the nostalgia for a Ted that wasn’t known for his politics, but for swinging on a rope onstage and his hard-rocking licks. 

Ted’s lead singer in the late 70’s was Charlie Huhn, who also performed with Humble Pie before becoming lead singer of legendary British band Foghat from 2000 to present.

Ted doing Gonzo at Express Live:

Mark Stewart is in his second career a Film/TV Producer and founder of Stewbean Productions (https://www.stewbeanproductions.com) with his award-winning Rockumentary/Mockumentary “Mock and Roll” (https://www.mockandrollthefilm.com) being released by MVD Entertainment and Soundview Media Partners on September 17.





      



frankblackfrancis :: aboxset :: byrobbraithwaite

Pixies formed in 1986. David Lovering, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and Charles Thompson IV, under the alias Black Francis, created music that influenced bands for years to come. Tensions within the group, largely between Thompson and Deal, strained and broke up the band in 1993.

Pixies reformed in 2004. A reunion tour was launched and new music was everyone’s hope. Pixies recorded “Bam Thwok!” for submission to the Shrek 2 soundtrack. It was rejected, and they continued to tour. Pixies wouldn’t go into the studio unless all members agreed. Kim Deal left the band in early 2013. A new EP was released later that year.

Pixies released three EPs over 2013 and 2014. They would later be collected as Indie Cindy. Simon Archer (The Fall) played bass in the studio. Kim Shattuck (The Muffs) managed bass duties live for a couple months before Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle) got the job permanently. Beneath the Eyrie, the new Pixies album, is out September 13th.

The making of Beneath the Eyrie was made into the award-worthy documentary podcast, It’s a Pixies Podcast.

Pixies were slowly making their way into my music world just as they were breaking up. From the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack to a 120 Minutes VJ crying, “That was the world premiere video of ‘Velouria’ and the last time we will ever show it,” I was aware of Pixies but I didn’t pay much attention to the albums until I got hooked on Frank Black’s solo albums, specifically Teenager of the Year.

Here Comes Your Man — 01
Bam Thwok! — 02
On Graveyard Hill — 03
Letter to Memphis — 04
No. 13 Baby — 05
Gigantic — 06
The Happening — 07
Planet of Sound — 08
Bel Esprit — 09
Something Against You — 10
Debaser — 11
Allison — 12
The Holiday Song — 13
Greens and Blues — 14

PIXIES :: 1986-1993, 2004-2019

13 — Come On Pilgrim (1987)
06, 10 — Surfer Rosa (1988)
01, 05, 11 — Doolittle (1989)
07, 12 — Bossanova (1990)
04, 08 — Trompe le Monde (1991)
02 — single (2004)
14 — Indie Cindy (2014)
09 — Head Carrier (2016)
03 — Beneath the Eyrie (2019)

Post-Pixies, Black Francis became Frank Black. He produced The Cult of Ray himself. The third solo album was recorded live with very few overdubs, a departure from his usual studio recording process. He liked the result so much that it became a blueprint for the next eight or nine years.

I saw Frank Black during the Teenager of the Year tour. The still underknown Jonny Polonsky opened. Throughout the entire show people screamed for Pixies songs. They never got them.

Headache — 01
Adda Lee — 02
Men in Black — 03
Superabound — 04
Old Black Dawning — 05
Pure Citizen of the Citizens Band — 06
You Ain’t Me — 07
Speedy Marie — 08
The Creature Crawling — 09
Czar — 10
The Man Who Was Too Loud — 11
The Cult of Ray — 12
Space Is Gonna Do Me Good — 13
Don’t Ya Rile ‘em — 14

FRANK BLACK :: 1993-1996

02, 05, 10, 14 — Frank Black (1993)
01, 04, 06, 08, 13 — Teenager of the Year (1994)
11 — The John Peel Session :: w/Teenage Fanclub (1995)
03, 07, 09, 12 — The Cult of Ray (1996)

Frank Black and the Catholics was made up of the backing band on The Cult of Ray. The process of recording “live-to-tape” was passed into law. There were no overdubs and virtually all of the songs during this time had no edits.

In 2004, Frank Black left the Catholics behind. He recorded two albums in Nashville with heavy-hitting session musicians that included Steve Cropper and Spooner Oldham, among many others.

I saw Frank Black and the Catholics during The Dog in the Sand tour. It was this tour that, for the first time, Pixies songs appeared on a Frank Black set list. Pixies reunited three years later.

Bullet — 01
Modern Age — 02
Do You Feel Bad About It? — 03
Smoke Up — 04
Go Find Your Saint — 05
21 Reasons — 06
If It Takes All Night — 07
I Switched You — 08
Solid Gold — 09
Nadine — 10
If Your Poison Gets You — 11
I Burn Today (live) — 12
Wave of Mutilation (live) — 13

FRANK BLACK AND THE CATHOLICS :: 1997-2006

03, 09 — Frank Black and the Catholics (1998)
04, 08 — Pistolero (1999)
01, 07 — Dog in the Sand (2001)
06 — Black Letter Days (2002)
02 — Devil’s Workshop (2002)
10 — Show Me Your Tears (2003)
05 — Honeycomb (2005) as Frank Black
11 — Fast Man Raider Man (2006) as Frank Black
12, 13 — Christmass (2006) as Frank Black

By 2007 the Pixies reunion tour looked like it was here to stay. There were rumors of new songs being worked on, though no new Pixies album appeared. Charles Thompson reverted to his Pixies alias, Black Francis, when he released Bluefinger. Both it and the EP svn fngrs made me wonder if some these songs had seeds of the rumored session. The rest of this section of frankblackfrancis is filled with a grab bag of projects: he wrote songs and a score for the silent movie The Golem (1920), he partnered with Reid Paley, a contributor on Fast Man Raider Man, for a one-off album, and he recorded a couple albums with Violet Clark, his wife, under the name Grand Duchy.

Threshold Apprehension — 01
Six Legged Man — 02
Half Man — 03
Bad News — 04
Curse — 05
Dead Man’s Curve — 06
The Flower Song — 07
Ugly Life — 08
Tight Black Rubber — 09
When They Come to Murder Me — 10
Lolita — 11
Stars — 12

BLACK FRANCIS :: 2007-2011

01, 09, 11 — Bluefinger (2007)
03, 10 — svn fngrs (2008)
02, 06 — NonStopErotik (2010)
04, 07, 12 — The Golem (2010)
05, 08 — Paley & Francis (2011) :: as Paley & Francis

If you haven’t noticed yet, Frank Black records a lot. Since Pixies formed in 1986 his yearly album average is nearly one and a quarter. And that’s not counting the songs he didn’t put on his records.

There was so much b-side material that collections were released. Oddballs compiled some of the excess from 1994-1997. Like material from the Catholics years were spread over two titles: Snake Oil (covers) and Another Road for the Hit (originals). Abbabubba and Christmass were mixes of original songs, live recordings and alternate versions of album tracks. Pixies even released a collection of b-sides. And with the arrival of Beneath the Eyrie, there are six more songs for the pile.

History Song (live) — 01
Somethings — 02
Don’t Clip Your Wings — 03
Re-Make/Re-Model — 04
Oddball — 05
Amnesia — 06
Old John Amos — 07
Sugar Daddy — 08
This Is Where I Belong — 09
Preacher’s Daughter — 10
That Burnt Out Rock ‘n’ Roll (live) — 11
Do Nothing — 12
You Never Heard About Me — 13
Rabbit Hole — 14
Tossed (vocal version) (live) — 15

SCRAPS

01 — FB&theC covering The Good, The Bad and The Queen
02, 12 — FB&theC - Snake Oil. 02 covering Angst. 12 covering The Specials
03, 10 — FB&theC: One More Road for the Hit
04, 05, 13 — FB: Oddballs
06, 09 — FB: “Headache” CD single. 09 covering The Kinks
07 — covering Arthur Alexander
08 — FB: Wig in a Box: Songs from and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch
11 — FB: 93-03. covering Gary Green
14 — BF demo
15 — FB bootleg

Below are Spotify versions of the playlists above. A few songs aren’t available, so some of the playlists vary slightly. There are a very small number copies of the above set, plus two episodes of It’s a Pixies Podcast, burned to CD at Colin’s Coffee, if you are so inclined…

“On Graveyard Hill” video co-directed by Kii Arens (Flipp, PPL MVR and LA-LA Land Gallery)

*phew*

Warrant and Blue Oyster Cult Concert Reviews - by Kevin Montavon

One thing you can count on in the summertime is small town festivals. Just about every town has a version of the traditional rural American “harvest festival”, with all the amenities of any carnival – fried food, rides, beer or wine made from whatever fruit or vegetable the festival is named after, and, in many communities, some quality Fair-Circuit caliber concert acts. Usually these are the artists that are on the way down in their careers, or, they have found a good niche for themselves where they can still pull a good pay guarantee, and draw a large crowd, because more often than not these small town festival concerts are free, or included with a minimal entrance fee to the carnival itself.

Such was the case this previous weekend when I caught two such rock shows: 80's Hair Metal Band Warrant, performing at the Obetz Zucchini Festival (yes, Zucchini, and yes, they have Zucchini beer, which I didn't try, so don't ask me what that's like); and Classic Rock radio stalwarts Blue Öyster Cult, who were performing in my hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio, at the city's annual River Days Festival.

The Zucchini Fest concerts are held at Fortress Obetz, a large high-school size stadium. In years past, artists like Ted Nugent and Brett Michaels, lead vocalist of 80's Glam band Poison, have literally packed the place. Ted's crowd in particular was extremely impressive, with an audience size that rivaled the daily attendance of the long-running Rock On The Range Festival, held at Columbus Crew Soccer Stadium. Unfortunately for Warrant, they didn't fare so well as a headline draw. The audience was of a respectable size, if the show had been held at a much smaller venue. But the few hundred people crowded in front of the stage looked like dozens in the big “fortress.” Oddly enough, one reason that the crowd may have been light is because the aforementioned Uncle Ted was also playing in town on Friday night, so the hard rockers had to make a choice, with only the cheapskates like me choosing Obetz.

The band, to their credit as professionals, showed no signs of being discouraged by the smallish horde. They performed all their big 80's hits with a fire and energy that rivals much younger bands plying their trade on the live scene today. They were tight, sounded great, the audience sang along with the songs, and couples even slow danced to the big ballads as everyone relived their 80's glory days. What Warrant has working against them is the fact that their primary songwriter and original front-man, Jani Lane, passed away in 2011. He was no longer with the band at that time, having squandered many opportunities due to his battles with alcoholism and other substance abuse issues. Current lead vocalist Robert Mason, to Warrant's benefit, is a true ringer. Formally of Lynch Mob and, more infamously, the “man behind the curtain” during one now urban-legendary Ozzy Osbourne tour, he is about as good a singer and front-man as any band of that era could hope for.

And sadly, I don't think that all that many people in Obetz Friday night knew, or cared, that it wasn't Jani up there singing his own songs. In my own case, I never saw the original lineup of Warrant, as I was an “anti-poser” kid when they had their run. But I did meet Jani once at a nightclub in Columbus called Mean Mr. Mustards. It was after Warrant had played a headlining set at the Alrosa Villa, and apparently someone from the audience let them know about this cool bar that played hard rock & metal music on Sunday nights, so that's where the after-party wound up. As a college dive bar of repute in that day, Mustard's was known for serving buckets of beer. And I'm not talking about what they call buckets of beer in bars today – 4 or 5 bottled beers in a small bucket of ice – no, I'm talking about a big plastic bucket, just like the kind you mop your floor or wash your car with, FILLED WITH DRAFT BEER. And you and all your friends all filled your own cups using the same dirty plastic cup floating on top of the swill. It was a great bargain for broke college kids, but here was this Rock Star losing his shit over the fact that you could drink from a bucket. He kept offering everyone some of his, but we were mostly like, “we do this every week dude”. For better or worse, that's my memory of Jani Lane.

Blue Öyster Cult - on the other hand - has been a longtime favorite band of mine. I first became aware of them the same way I became aware of many big rock acts of the 70's...through my older brother's vinyl record collection. The album covers captivated me, with geometrical patterns, strange figures in robes, and cryptic symbols galore. The band even had it's own custom symbol, a combination of a cross and a question mark...whoah. They were truly “cultish” and seemed forbidden to my Catholic sensibilities. In the early days of MTV, back when they actually played music videos, the B.Ö.C. song “Burnin' For You” was a staple. I loved that video, with the band performing in front of a burning car, and guitarist Eric Bloom's custom B.Ö.C.-symbol guitar. I loved the walking bass line so much that I once sat down and forced myself to learn it. To this day it's the only real bass lick that I know. I loved their horror and Sci-Fi themed songs like "Joan Crawford (Has Risen From The Grave)" and "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars."

I have seen them many times in concert, including one time where my best friend and I walked out of a heated college radio station staff meeting that was dragging on too long with him uttering the words “You all can do what you want, we're going to see B.Ö.C!”, leaving the rest of our colleagues to argue amongst themselves about whatever it was we were arguing over before we took off for the show.

This time they were headlining my hometown's own yearly fest, Portsmouth River Days. River Days is held in the southern Ohio city every Labor Day weekend, and features the usual carnival attractions; rides; in the case of this particular fest, boat races on the river; and of course, entertainment. The headlining acts are always the usual circuit-runners. In years past acts such as Kansas, The Little River Band, and the Charlie Daniels Band have graced the small amphitheater stage on the banks of the Ohio River. When Cult was scheduled as this year's headliner, I made a point of planning a trip down to the Port city to see the show along with family and old friends. I donned my “More Cowbell” t-shirt (yes, I was going to be “that guy”), and along with my better-half, we made the two-hour drive down US Route 23 to Portsmouth in the mid- afternoon, meeting up with some of my family, and heading down to the river bank to meet friends and see the show.

My sister had procured VIP wristbands for our party of four, so we got to go inside a large tent set up next to the stage where we ate free pizza, wings, and drink all the water and soda we wanted, and had seats to watch the show from stage right. Unfortunately, someone should have asked the band's guitar tech to set up the spare guitars and tuning station a little further upstage, as he completely blocked the view of the main stage area. We could see the drummer, and we could see the guys up front when they stepped up to the mics to sing, but otherwise if they were walking around the stage jamming, our view was obstructed. To the credit of the VIP's gathered in the tent, no one really seemed to mind, as everyone stood and danced and sang along.

The band delivered their usual set of hits and favored deep cuts, along with some improv jamming and soloing courtesy of original lead guitarist and vocalist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. Co-lead vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and band front-man Eric Bloom provides the MC duties to this day, with the pair being the only original members in the current lineup. The Ohio River was the perfect setting for the Cult staple “Godzilla”, as Bloom delivered his usual stage rap about the legendary beast, tailored to fit the evening's locale. “Can you see it RISING UP FROM THE RIVER?!?” he asked the crowd of thousands who had filled the riverbank. “What is it? WHO is it?” “GODZILLA!” roared the fine folks of P-town. The boys then dutifully stomped through the classic rock staple.

After some instrumental jamming and a guitar solo from Buck Dharma, the moment that many people had been waiting on finally arrived. It was “cowbell time” as the band launched into their biggest hit, “(Don't Fear) The Reaper”, made famous for a second time in their career by the now legendary Christopher Walken/Will Farrell “More Cowbell” sketch on Saturday Night Live. While I do not begrudge the band their good fortune at striking gold and cashing in on their Pop Culture fame, the fans who only care about that one song - to the point of bringing THEIR OWN COWBELLS to the show - are a bit much. Several by-now inebriated patrons in the VIP section began to play along, and not a one of them could keep the beat. The cacaphony was almost hypnotizing in it's complete disregard for the song being played onstage.

A friend of mine said later that he would bet that B.Ö.C. hates that SNL skit, because of all the self-entitled fans who now want to be “Gene” (Farrell's cowbell-playing character in the sketch) and be a part of the show. He believes “More Cowbell” has become the new “Play Freebird!” While he may be correct, I argued that the band has definitely benefited from it, cashing in on the increased Pop Culture visibility and giving their live career an added boost late in what has been a long game for them. Every t-shirt they sell today is emblazoned with “More Cowbell” on the back. They know where their bread is buttered.

After "Reaper" the band left left the stage (and thankfully the cowbells went back under the chairs), returning to play an encore of “Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll” for the now-dwindling audience. (“Reaper's done, I'm outta here Bubba!”) The show was through, goodbyes were said, and we escaped into the night like a character in a B.Ö.C. song, heading north on Ohio Route 104 and back to Columbus. It was a fun daytrip back to the hometown.…to the same riverbank where I drank beer underage, played rock songs on the car stereo at full-volume, and dreamed of escaping the small town life. I eventually did that, but these days I'd just as soon escape the big city life and return to small town living. As long as the town I wind up in has a cool festival with a once-was and still-kicking-it Rock Act, I think I'd be alright.

On Elliott Murphy's Birthday: The Pencilstorm Interview - by Ricki C.

This blog originally ran on Pencil Storm March 16th, 2017, Elliott Murphy’s 68th birthday. Tonight Ricki C. is seeing Murphy in concert at The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, Long Island, NY. Saturday night Ricki will be catching the show in Roslyn, N.Y. Ricki will report on the shows sometime next week, but hopefully this blog will help explain why he would fly into Newark, New Jersey just to catch two rock & roll shows on Long Island. (Bear in mind that Mr. C. could not be convinced in any way, shape or form to travel to New York City to catch Bruce Springsteen - Ricki’s OTHER mainman rock & roll hero - when he appeared on Broadway for all those months back in 2017 & 2018.) As Cheap Trick is to Colin, Elliott Murphy is to Ricki C.

I bought Elliott Murphy’s debut album – Aquashow – at the Discount Records store across from the Ohio State University campus in late November or early December, 1973, the same week I quit college, moved out of my mother's house and got my first apartment.  I didn’t know it when I bought it, but the first verse of the first song on Aquashow – “Last Of The Rock Stars” – contains the lines, “I got a feeling on my back like an old brown jacket / I’d like to stay in school, but I just can’t hack it.”  It was a rock & roll match made in heaven.

I started buying records in 1964, I continue to buy them now in 2017, and Aquashow remains to this day my favorite album of all time.  I bought Aquashow largely because of the blurb in this article about New York Rock, written by Dave Marsh in the December 1973 issue of Creem magazine, my Rock & Roll Bible of the time……

I conducted the following long-distance interview with Elliott Murphy via e-mail in February, 2017.  We're running it today - March 16th, 2017 - Elliott's 68th birthday.  He will be playing two birthday shows at The New Morning in his adopted home of Paris, France, this Friday & Saturday, March 17th & 18th.  We encourage any of our Continental friends to attend.  (I wish I was.)  Details on those shows, pertinent info about ordering all things Elliott Murphy - CD's, books, etc. - and a host of Elliott's prose writings can be found at www.elliottmurphy.com.  You should check it out at your earliest convenience.

 

THE PENCILSTORM ELLIOTT MURPHY INTERVIEW, WINTER 2017   


1)    You've recorded 35 albums since your debut, Aquashow, in 1973: do you know how many songs?  Also, what are your five favorite songs you've written, and - in as many words as you want/need - why? 

I don’t really know how many songs I’ve recorded and that’s a job better suited for a true archivist than myself (any volunteers?) but I suppose it’s around 300, and maybe I’ve written another 100 that I never recorded. And the saddest part is that I’ve probably started another 500 that I never finished. When asked about my favorite songs it always comes down to those I’ve written and those I’ve recorded. Songs that stand that test of time like LAST OF THE ROCK STARS are essential to me but there are a few songs from my upcoming album PRODIGAL SON that I’m particularly fond of, such as LET ME IN and ABSALOM, DAVY AND JACKIE O, which is an 11-minute opus of a dozen verses. I think my favorite recorded song is ANASTASIA, because for me the production is as close to perfection as I can imagine. But I’d have to throw COME ON LOUANN in there too, as well as YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’RE IN FOR..… and on and on.

 

2)    The first prose piece I ever read by you were the liner notes to the 1969: Velvet Underground Live album, released back in 1974, and still to this day in 2017 I consider it one of the five best essays I have ever read on the subject of rock & roll.  How did your authorship of those notes come about?  (And, while we're on the subject: tell us a Lou Reed story we've never heard before.)

I first met Lou Reed in 1971 at a Mitch Ryder show at the Café au Go Go in NYC. (Mitch had covered Lou’s "Rock and Roll" with his band Detroit.) The Velvet Underground had such an avant-garde reputation and a menacing ambiance of sadomasochism in songs such as "Venus in Furs" that introducing myself to Lou took all the courage this 22-year-old nascent rocker could draw up. But I had just returned from a European sojourn, so I had a certain hip bono fides under my belt, having busked in the Paris Metro and appearing in Fellini’s film Roma. But to see Lou standing there in that Mickey Mouse T-shirt, chatting amiably with music business heavyweights didn’t fit the picture of the legend I had heard about. Come on, this was the composer of "Heroin"! The only thing I remember saying to him was that I too was from Long Island. “Oh really?” was his dead-panned response.

A year later my great discoverer, the late Paul Nelson - legendary rock critic and friend of Bob Dylan - who was then an A&R executive at Mercury Records asked me to write liner notes for Live 1969, the posthumous live VU album. Remember that all of this was months before I even began recording my own first album Aquashow, and still to this day fans bring me that VU album with my “It's one hundred years from today …” notes to sign as if it was my very own record and indeed I’m honored. 

I guess you could say that those liner notes contained hints of the suburban fear & loathing that was apparent all over the lyrics of Aquashow and befittingly, I wrote them on the Long Island Rail Road. Paul Nelson passed on my liner notes to Lou for his approval and - much to my delight - Lou liked them a lot, because shortly thereafter he actually called my mother and had a fairly long chat with her, as I wasn’t home at the time. At the end of the conversation my mom told him how excited I would be to hear from him and Lou asked her why.

“Because he’s a great admirer of yours,” said my mother.
“Isn’t everybody?” Lou responded.

My mother - who is in her nineties - still remembers that conversation and I still remember seeing Lou in the Mickey Mouse T-Shirt at Cafe au Go Go, so I guess you could say that Lou made a big impression on all those he came into contact with. When Aquashow came out critics imagined Dylan's Blonde on Blonde as my great inspiration but the truth was I listened to the Velvet Underground's Loaded over and over before daring to even put my toe in the rock 'n roll sacred waters.......

By the end of that tumultuous year 1974, My life had irrevocably changed; not only had my first album exploded on the scene garnering rave reviews from Rober Christgau (Village Voice) and Bob Hillburn (L.A. Times) and Paul Nelson himself (Rolling Stone) but there was my name for all to see on an actual Velvet Underground album. It was almost too much to handle! Or to quote the title of The New York Dolls’ second album – Too Much Too Soon

The last time I really spoke to Lou was when he came to Paris in the early 90’s and called me out of the blue and we had a café and we were crossing one of the bridges of the Seine and it was windy and Lou had his collar up and a passing French woman thought he was a priest! Lou didn’t like that. Then we stood on the bridge and Lou asked me what had happened with my life and career and I told him how it got difficult for me in the US during the 80’s and I moved to France and got married to the love of my life and now we have a son together, Gaspard, and my career took off again in Europe and Lou put his hand on my shoulder and said “So it all worked out okay, eh?” like a benediction from a priest!

3)    Who was the biggest influence on your prose writing? (And, I guess while we're on the subject: on your songwriting?) 

When it comes to songwriting I’m just a product of my generation: step one was watching Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show; step two The Beatles conquered America; and, step three Bob Dylan changed the possibilities of lyrical content in a rock song forever and ever. In my case, my father brought me to a lot of Broadway shows when I was a kid so I was introduced to the story telling aspect of songwriting right away. When it came to prose the first “important” book I read was EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck when I was 12. I had seen the James Dean film on TV and then searched out the book and it was such a larger universe than the film. After that there was of course F. Scott Fitzgerald and I related to GATSBY especially because it took place on Long Island where I grew up and also because I shared some of his romanticism, or as Scott said, “Show me a hero and I’ll show you a tragedy.” But there were so many other writers I admire all the way from Graham Greene to Kerouac to Raymond Chandler to Joyce Carol Oates to Hemingway to Wallace Stevens to John Cheever….. the list could go on and on. But honestly, I can’t say that any of them ever consciously influenced my style, they just showed me what great writing could be and how important it was to get it right.


4)    In your early career (circa 1973-1977) you made it a point to dress above/apart from your hippie rabble contemporaries (sharp white suits as opposed to patched bluejeans 'n' plaid flannel shirts): What was the worst fashion mistake you ever made onstage?

I think I avoided the worst mistake when Polydor Records hired an ad agency to promote Aquashow and they came up with the brilliant idea that I was the “prophet of my lost generation” and should wear long robes. I could live without seeing a few of my Miami Vice 1980’s shirts but aside from that I don't have many sartorial regrets. And my boots were always correct, which is the most important thing!


5)    How hard was your decision in 1989 to leave New York for a new home and life in Paris? 

It was more gradual then you would imagine. I first played in Paris in 1979 and by 1989 I’d say most of my career was Europe-based. I had a good record company in France -New Rose - and I was touring all over the continent and in Scandinavia. I didn’t know how long I would last here because there are legal matters like visas and working papers, but then when I married Françoise everything worked out. She has been my guide through the French bureaucracy so it’s been fairly smooth even if I get stressed out like any immigrant. But leaving New York was not so hard; I had a bad memory on every street corner and it was time for a second act. 


6)    Were you already playing guitar when The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964?  And what was the very first rock & roll song you sang in front of an audience?

I started playing guitar when I was 12 (around 1961) and the folk boom was happening, so I think the first song I performed in front an audience was "This Little Light of Mine" by the Kingston Trio. When “Murphy went electric” in 1964 my father bought me a Kent guitar (same guitar as Bruce S. had!) and my band did mostly surf music instrumentals. So probably “Walk Don’t Run” or “Wipeout” was the first rock ‘n roll song I sang. For a guy best known for his lyrics it’s ironic wouldn’t you say?


7)    Circa 1975, after the split of Boston bands The Modern Lovers and The Sidewinders, you hired Ernie Brooks, Jerry Harrison and Andy Paley as your backing band: What or who was your Boston connection?

Well, let me see..…when I came back from Europe in 1972 and was hanging around in Max’s Kansas City there was a lot of talk about The Modern Lovers although very few people had actually heard them play because they were really a Boston band. Then they opened for the NY Dolls on New Years Eve at the Mercer Arts Center (I played there a week later) and I think I said hello to Ernie Brooks and we became friends. The touring bands I had for Aquashow and Lost Generation never really worked out because they weren’t the same musicians who were playing on the albums and that was frustrating for everyone. So when I started to plan Night Lights I thought I’d get a band together, do some shows, and then go into the studio, which is kind of what happened. Ernie introduced me to Jerry Harrison (who 10 years later produced some cuts on my album Milwaukee) and also to Andy Paley because, I think, he had gone out with his sister. We opened for Sha Na Na in Canada, which had to be the worst pairing of acts in the history of the music business. But we did go into Electric Lady Studios and record quite a few songs, including "Diamonds By The Yard."

left to right: Elliott Murphy (guitar), Ernie Brooks (bass), Andy Paley (drums), Jerry Harrison (keyboards)


8)    As with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, your career is no exercise in nostalgia, you’re constantly recording new records and playing shows, what new releases do you have coming up?

I was actually writing a lot of songs and making demos and about ready to start a new album right before we decided to do AQUASHOW REVISITED (wherein I re-recorded the songs on my first album in a new way and through the ears of my son and producer Gaspard Murphy), so I gently put those songs aside and dug back into my past, like Proust searching for lost time. And then, when I revisited these new songs again after letting them lay dormant for about a year or more they had..… improved! Or at least that was the impression I had when I went back to the demos, and so I thought OK it’s time to put together that album again. I was haunted by this idea of working with a gospel choir and Gaspard found four great singers and a wonderful young piano player by the name of Leo Cotton who played like Leon Russell. We're looking toward a spring release. I don’t know how any artist can live in nostalgia-land.  

9)    Tell us about Jorge Arenillas documentary The Second Act of Elliott Murphy; any idea when we will see it in America?

I first met Jorge Arenillas when he was involved in some kind of futuristic horror film as a writer, I think, and the director wanted me to play a role in the film as a crazy rock star living like a hermit in a haunted house. That film never got made but when Jorge directed his next film - Another Summer – he asked me if he could use my song "Summer House" (from Just A Story From America, 1977) over the end credits, so I went into the studio with my son Gaspard and we made a new version of "Summer House" that went into the film. It’s a great film, by the way, about a haunted man who is trapped in his memory of a summer romance. Anyway, following that Jorge said he wanted to make a film about..…me! I was shocked and doubted that he could pull it off, but you know what? He did! Jorge started following Olivier Durand (my great French guitarist) and myself around on tour in Spain and soon we became used to his presence, almost like he was haunting us. He filmed a concert in Bilbao, where I’ve been playing for over twenty years, and it really was a magic night. So the film was finished and was even shown at one festival in Spain but Jorge said it needed something else. I asked what? He said … Bruce Springsteen. So I called Bruce and asked him if he would agree to be interviewed for the film and being the generous wonderful man that he is, he agreed. And then it just so happened that I was back in touch with Billy Joel around this same time because I came across a photo of Billy, Doctor John, and myself backstage somewhere and sent it to him. So I asked Billy if he would agree to be interviewed as well and being the generous wonderful man that he is too, he agreed. Jorge jumped on a plane and interviewed Bruce in New Jersey and Billy in Florida and voila! 

The film is available on DVD but in PAL, and will have its U.S. premiere at the Stony Brook Film Festival on Long Island this summer. Hopefully a release on Netflix or Amazon will follow…… 


10)    Tell us Ohio boys about a spring Parisian twilight……… 

The best part for me is always to be crossing one of the beautiful bridges that span the Seine on my Vespa scooter at twilight and to see the Eiffel Tower in the distance and all those gold-domed buildings and just the wonderful Parisians themselves all decked out, each in their own universe and to pass all those cafes and think of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Picasso and even Jim Morrison and to know that you are really at home. At least that’s my story from America.….

 

Ricki C. formerly ran his own blog - Growing Old With Rock & Roll - from January 1st, 2012 until 11:59 pm December 31st, 2013, and now writes exclusively for Pencilstorm.  He has been involved in rock & roll - as a musician or as a roadie - since he was 16 in 1968.  When not penning prose he deploys a solo singer/songwriter act he dubs action-packed acoustic rock & roll.  He has been employed as a guitar tech for the three W's of Columbus rock & roll - Willie Phoenix, Watershed and The Whiles - and believes he's a better man for having done so. Previous Elliott Murphy blogs by Ricki on Growing Old With Rock & Roll can be found by clicking on How I Spent My Summer Vacation and Elliott Murphy in Piermont, among others.)


  

Concert Review: Alice Cooper w/ Halestorm and Motionless In White - by JCE

For anyone who has read any of my writings here on Pencilstorm, you might wonder why JCE would go to this concert at all. First off, I hate large venues, and second, I lean a little more punk rock and power pop than this triple bill would imply (but I do like my glam metal). Well here’s the story. I saw this show coming to Jiffy Lube Live, one of your typical outdoor “sheds,” which is located in Bristow, VA only about 50 minutes from where I live. My daughter and I had seen Motionless In White a couple of times, and we have grown to love them. Halestorm is a band that my wife and my daughter and I have enjoyed over the last few years, and Alice Cooper…..well Alice is someone I casually enjoy. My wife had no interest and my daughter really didn’t even know who he was. Still, it seemed like a good outing for our whole family while my daughter was home for the summer. (She’s a college student and away from home 9 months out of the year.) Plus, I have never seen Alice Cooper and I thought I should before he dies: he’s 71 years old. I consider him to have been very influential to a great deal of music that I love. So I bought three tickets for the Tuesday, August 13th show.

We easily parked and found our seats. As it turns out, Alice Cooper on a Tuesday night does not apparently make for a sellout crowd. They didn’t even have the lawn area open, which is a good thing because there was thunder and lightning and it rained its ass off. Motionless In White hit the stage and my family - along with a totally punked-out Motionless fan sitting next to us - were practically the only people who immediately jumped to our feet. An usher took notice and gave us four tickets to move two sections forward, instantly transforming my overpriced seats in Section 301 in the back to great seats in Section 101 in the front. Nice. Motionless In White played eight very good, crisp, hard-rocking songs, including several of our favorites. This is a band I once dismissed as “scream-o” noise that has progressed and matured into a really polished act, in my opinion. My daughter and I could have left then and been happy.

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Motionless In White

Next up: Halestorm. This is a metal outfit from Philadelphia featuring a female vocalist named Lizzy Hale. They have some great records and some great songs. Unfortunately, this was not their night. Their most current record, called “Vicious,” is a total clunker in my opinion. The one song I like on it is called “Skulls” and they did not play it. They have a brand new single called “Chemicals” which is good and was the highlight of the night for me. The older songs that they did play were marred by too much guitar noodling and drum soloing and I thought the whole set was a mess.

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Lizzy Hale

Alice Cooper was next up. The night was getting long and we all had previously agreed to watch some Alice Cooper, but maybe not the whole set. After setting up his haunted castle stage, Alice came on and started strong. Here is a 71 year old man wearing leather pants, prowling the stage and not looking too silly at all. He opened with a good tune called “Feed My Frankenstein” and then really got my attention with “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” I love that one. “Bed of Nails” was great and Ashley and I got a kick out of “Fallen in Love” which featured the chorus “I’ve fallen in love and I can’t get up.” That one is on his latest record which isn’t half bad. I had insisted we stay to hear “I’m Eighteen” unless it was all the way at the end, but it was the seventh song, so we easily made it to that one. We walked out to the car at some point mid-set while listening to “Billion Dollar Babies.” Of all the songs on the setlist, the only ones I missed that he eventually played and I wish I had heard were “Under My Wheels” and “School’s Out.” Nevertheless, I can now say I saw Alice Cooper, and if I’m being honest, I enjoyed him as much as Motionless and far more than Halestorm. Way to go Alice! Here’s the most important thing I can say about this concert: the reason the guy was awesome at age 71 is that he picked the most spectacular, melt your face off touring band imaginable. He had two lead guitar players that I had heard of and have even listened to in the past. I didn’t recognize who they were until I had to look them up the morning after the show. The first was Ryan Roxie, who has some great songs of his own and looks a little like Johnny Thunders reincarnated. The second was Nita Strauss; who is a renowned guitar slinger, had so much energy and looked so cool. The two of them were great, but Nita was spinning, racing from one side of the stage to the other and just killing it. Alice had some very good hired guns to make this a really decent rock n roll show. The proof is in the pictures (which by the way are pictures of a big video screen, I wasn’t that close to the stage):

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Alice Cooper, same as ever…

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Ryan Roxie and Nita Strauss

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Nita Strauss

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Nita Strauss

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Ryan and Nita, who stole the show as far as I’m concerned…..